Tried soon dubu again, this time with clams and some sirloin, and real home made soon dubu paste. The difference between home made and the commercial paste is pretty astounding. There are notable color differences, and all the futzing we did with flavor in the last batch almost completely went away.

Made with home made soon dubu paste.

One more chicken sous vide note: worked with a chicken breast at 146 degrees, starting from frozen, a breast that was frozen with three kinds of peppers, onion and garlic powder, and a little salt, and this was the best product yet. It was left in the pot for 1 hour, 50 minutes (1 hr 20m + 30m to defrost), and was uniformly juicy and flavorful. There was one ‘bad’ spot, a little bloody and I suspect near a vein of some kind. But otherwise, quite excellent.

I have an accuracy issue with my Auber temperature sensor, and it goes something like this. I have a separate thermometer, and when the Auber is first on, the rwo agree within a degree. As the Auber probe remains in the pot however, the difference in measurements increase, until after some time, I see this.

Pot equilibrated to a measurement of 144, a few minutes after adding chicken. Note the temp difference between the two probes. Who to believe?

So who to believe? I’m concerned the Auber is underestimating temperature, because of the beef color of cuts like this, which was supposed to be cooked at 130 to 132 degrees F.

Nam Dae Mun ribeye, sous-vide and plated. Cooked perhaps 4 hours at Auber nomimal 130.

The above, sliced. Does that look medium rare to you?

So yes, I’m looking into how to accurately gauge and calibrate temperature with this setup. I’ve also been playing with higher temperatures, in part so I can cook chicken, which is a substantially smaller portion of meat than some of these big steaks I’ve been eating.

Jimmy (@EatItAtlanta) tweeted before my experiments that he wasn’t happy with the meat near the bone of chicken cooked at 140 F. Since I’m using a PID controller, and it overshoots temp by 2 degrees during the first couple hours, then the kinds of temperatures I’m looking at for my setpoint are 2 degrees below the cooking point. But if it’s actually running 3 degrees cool, I need to compensate by 5 degrees. Does that make sense?

PID controllers overshoot and then narrow in on their target temperatures. That first overshoot peak defines the actual cooking temperature for my controller. In practice, I overshoot by about 2 degrees F. Image above from Wikimedia, and the PID controller article on Wikipedia.

The French Culinary Institute’s PDF on sous-vide recommends 1-2 hours for chicken at 65-66C (149-151 F), and that means the two Auber temperature settings I needed to test are 144 F and 147 F. So we tested those.

Nam Dae Mun chicken thighs. Note the price.

Spiced and sealed. I used cracked black pepper, red pepper, crushed red pepper (pizza pepper), some onion and garlic powder, and a dusting of poultry seasoning.

Cooked 90 minutes at 144 from room temp and plated. 2.5 hrs at 147 from frozen has a similar appearance. I prefer the flavor and texture of the hotter product.

Results? I liked my chicken better at 147 than 144. The looks are about the same at both, and at both, you really do need to trim off the chicken fat, because unlike frying, the fat that results from this technique isn’t much fun to eat. The chicken is amazingly juicy, and you might find it not cooked enough for your tastes. If so, just keep ramping up the temperatures until you’re happy with what comes out of the controller.

As for me, I need a better way to calibrate my device. I would like to nail a good medium rare on the steak side. For now, I have a useful working temperature on the chicken side.

I thought it was a pretty dish, fun to photograph, and decent, not great. But Guillermo tells me this dish is selling across a spectrum of customers and doing well. A stuffed chicken breast centers the presentation.

Maya Fresh Grill
960 Pleasant Hill Road, Suite A
Lawrenceville, GA 30044
(770) 279-3748

Maya Fresh Grill on Urbanspoon

This is a brief review of dieting and some dieting options I’ve run across. To note I really don’t eat diet food. I eat regular food in controlled amounts. That isn’t to say my wife hasn’t gone out and bought this diet food or that diet food; she has. But if they look like snacks my daughter eats them, and I have no clue who ate my sugar free jello. So, in practice, I am having a hard time even trying to live on anything specific. I make do with what is at hand.

We’ll start with the 2000 calorie ADA style exchange diet I was given, which was:

13 starch/carb exchanges.
6 vegetable exchanges
10 (lean) meat servings
6 fat servings.

This is a fairly balanced diet, with a ratio of 42% carbs, 24% protein, 34% fat. If you’re not carb restricted, you might want to pull up an exchange calculator (here or here) and try replacing some fat with carbs. I am carb restricted so that’s a reasonable baseline diet for me to work with. If the exchange concept confuses you, the link on the side bar to the ExRx site gets you to a great list of exchanges.

The 1800 calorie exchange diet I was given is not much different, something like:

13 starch/carb exchanges
5 veggies
9 (lean) meat servings
4 fat servings

And right now, according to Web MD, my optimal calorie intake for 1 pound a day weight loss is a just a bit more than 1900 calories. So I can sit anywhere in between 1800 and 2000 and be pretty happy.

The 13 starch/carb exchanges fold in fruit exchanges and milk exchanges. That was kind of mind blowing to me, because I thought meat and milk were more similar than milk and potatoes. But the kicker here are the 12g of carbs in a cup of milk. Yes, milk is full of protein but it’s also full of milk sugars, so it gets lumped into the carbs overall.

With these kinds of diet numbers, I have to eat a lot of meat. It doesn’t matter too much what kind of meat I eat, but keeping track of how much and what kind matters. A single “serving size”, or exchange is usually one ounce. A single lean meat serving has approximately 7g protein and 3g fat. Medium fatty meat has 7g protein and 5g fat. A fat exchange is 5g fat. So, using these definitions, chicken without skin is called a lean meat. Chicken with skin is treated as a medium fatty meat. Salmon is lean meat without skin, I suspect it’s medium fatty with it.

A hot dog is both a medium fat meat exchange and also a fat exchange. It has so much fat two exchanges are needed to handle the “cost” of it. But in hot dogs size matters. The hot dogs served at Target are so big they count as 2 medium fatty meats and two fat exchanges; they’re twice the size of a typical hot dog.

Cheese fits in as filler. When I don’t have the inclination or desire to eat huge servings of meat, I pad my diet with cheese. Since cheese lacks carbs, it’s generally treated as a “meat” in an exchange diet. Lighter cheeses, like the Baby Bel light cheese, have a protein to fat profile similar to lean meat. Baby Bel Lights are 6g protein and 3g fat, so I treat them as a lean meat serving. One mozzarella stick (specifically, Andrew and Everett Mozzarella String cheese) is 8g protein and 5g fat, so mozzarella sticks act as one medium fatty meat exchange.

One ounce of the Kraft reduced fat cheddars are 7g protein and 7g fat, so they fit pretty well as one lean meat plus one fat. Also in this category is parmigiana reggiano, at 9g protein and 8g fat per ounce. Cheddars (a good tasting example is Black Diamond old cheese; Kerry Gold Dubliner is in the “cheddar category”) are usually 7g protein and 10g fat per one ounce serving, so they break down pretty well as one medium fatty meat exchange and one fat exchange. In other words, cheddar is about as good for you as a hot dog, and should be used the same as you might a hot dog in a diet. The light Laughing Cow “pizza slices” are 2.5 g protein and 2 g fat, so if you ate 3 of those, the sum would be 7.5g protein and 6g fat.. pretty close to reduced calorie cheddar. Softer cheeses, like camembert and brie, probably have to be treated in ways similar to hot dogs, as meat-fat hybrids.

At one extreme of the protein to fat cheese scale are products like Alouette Gourmet Cheese spread. They have so little protein and so much fat they’re a pure fat exchange. The other extreme are products like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is a choice that can be used for no fat, high protein, some carb additions to diets. Another interesting choice are the plain Greek yogurts available. They add servings of milk, but their protein content is so high they are treated as a milk-meat hybrids.

So why not just eat fatty stuff all the time? You can take care of your meat and fat needs at the same time. The answer is you really want some “good fats” in the diet, vegetable based unsaturated fats, and you also want some omega 3 sources in the diet as well (i.e. wild fish). So trying to keep your meat (and cheese) profile as close to lean as possible gives a dieter the versatility to add things like olives, olive oil, nuts and so forth – even chocolate – into the diet. And as can be seen, if you’re a cheese lover, you don’t have to lose out either.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is in a collection of shops on the corner of Briarcliff and Clairmont Road. It’s a block south of the I-85 – Clairmont Intersection, and on the right as you’re heading south. It’s not easy to see, more on the Briarcliff side of things. When you see what looks like parking, pull off the road and look for it.

There are at least three other Ethiopian restaurants in the area as well. Desta is in a separate building, and you may see the drive through before you see the rest of the restaurant. There is outdoor and indoor seating, and a decent amount of parking by the restaurant. Inside, it’s quite an attractive restaurant, if small, and there are both tables and booths to sit in.

I came here on a Father’s Day, after having argued the merits of 2-3 other places. I had eaten Ethiopian food about 22 years ago, in a restaurant in Philadelphia. On that day, the food was laid on a huge chunk of the Ethiopian bread (called injera, and made with the grain teff) and the food placed over the bread. Injera is spongy, and it is intended to be used as a utensil. We tore up bits of our plate of bread, scooped up the food, and ate it. From what I could see in the newspaper, the arrangement in Desta was going to be a little different.

We ordered chicken, fish, and lamb tibs, and my wife was also curious about their lentil stew. So we ordered a side of that. When the food came, the dishes were served on long rectangular trays, maybe 3 inches wide and perhaps 12-14 inches long. All the meats and fish were cut into small chunks, to be easy to handle. Each dish came with a house salad on the side. And in shallow grey pans came the pale brown injera, rolls of it, as long as the palm of your hand and the roll perhaps an inch to an inch and a half thick.

My wife ended up asking for a fork.

My daughter and I took to the bread easily, and tore off chunks of it to eat the food.  The stew came with a spoon, and I’d pour some of the stew into a chunk of the bread and eat that as well. My daughter loved her fish, which was mild and a little crunchy. My wife liked the chicken quite a bit (it had a yellow color to it and seems to have been nicely spiced) and I liked the lamb dish I chose. We had differences of opinion about the lentil stew. My daughter and I liked it, my wife wasn’t as happy with it.

One thing that is easy to do at Desta is underestimate how much food you’re really eating. The injera ends up being a lot of your meal, and so what seems like a small serving can end up quite a large one. As a consequence, we took home food from every plate that was served to us, along with about six rolls of the bread.

Given the quantity of leftovers, the meal was shockingly inexpensive. Service was generally excellent.

Verdict: Delicious ethnic food served in a way that doesn’t shock as many first time Americans. Highly recommended for those looking for something new.

Desta Ethiopian Kitchen
3086 Briarcliff Rd.
NE Atlanta, GA 30329
(Inside Williamsburg Shopping Center)
(404) 929-0011

Desta on Urbanspoon

Update: Amy on Food’s nice review of Desta features some excellent photos and a review of the foods she tried.

Longhorn Steakhouse is a well established chain in the US, roughly equivalent to Outback or Texas Roadhouse, that serves steaks, chicken, and seafood in a clean modern setting.  I’ve been to various Longhorn Steakhouses many times, and all in all I prefer Outback slightly, because I think Outback’s entrees are a little cheaper and their service is a little better. I have friends I hold in high regard, however, who hold exactly the opposite opinion. I suspect the difference between the mid priced steak houses is mostly a matter of personal taste.

There are two Longhorns in Snellville,  and this review covers the one at the corner of Web Ginn Road and Highway 124, in the open mall known as Avenue Web Ginn. This is a Snellville location, though just by crossing Web Ginn Road, you are then in Lawrenceville.

When this restaurant first opened it was packed and impossible to get into. The wait was well over an hour and the receptionists were unable to accurately estimate time. I left lines for this place at least twice because a “half hour” wait stretched into an hour or more.

The lines have calmed down in the meantime, and my daughter and I came recently during lunch. We were seated quickly and a waiter was with us shortly. Drinks were rapidly served and we both ordered salads, my daughter a salmon salad and I had the 7 pepper sirloin salad, medium rare.

In the meantime, we were served Longhorn’s bread. It’s a round loaf, as opposed to the elongated loaf of other stores, and it was already sliced, a handy convenience. Longhorn’s bread is quite good.

Both salads were good. My daughter’s salmon was cooked, as opposed to undercooked, and while my salad ended up with medium well steak as opposed to medium rare, the steak was quite good and full of flavor. At points I thought the 7 pepper crust was a little potent, but in a salad with steak, blue cheese, balsamic dressing, and a pepper crust, there will be some strong flavors.

I found the service to be good, but not great. They seemed surprised when our glasses were empty. Some of that could simply be the time we came. Lunch isn’t as hectic as dinner.

Verdict:  Recommended.  Very good steaks, good seafood, good service.

Longhorn Steakhouse
1350 Scenic Highway
Snellville, GA, 30078
(770) 972-6552

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

It’s in the northeast corner of the strip mall on the northeast corner of Singleton and Jimmy Carter, just a block or two east of the intersection of Jimmy Carter and I-85. It’s unpretentious from the outside, and inside, there is a wide counter where you order and pick up food. Just above the counter is a wide photographic display of the foods Mughal’s Restaurant serves, and throughout the restaurant, there are a collection of long tables and chairs.

Mughal's Restaurant and Hall

Mughal's Restaurant and Hall

Mughal’s is in part a Pakistani restaurant, and I didn’t have a good idea of what they serve. But the staff was polite and helpful, and we chose the Butter Chicken, the Chicken 65, Bhuna Gosht, a couple orders of naan and a couple orders of beef samosas. It didn’t take long for them to prepare the food. The price of my meal, in comparison to other South Asian restaurants, was relatively cheap (most entrees run about 5.99 to 7.99 each). I took it to go, and brought it home to my family.

Well, the Chicken 65 was a big hit, the chicken a dark red color, spicy, deep fried, and delicious. The naan was really good, warm, delicious, and had a bit of a crust. The samosas were small compared to others I’ve had, but they were tasty bites of beef wrapped in a triangular pastry. The Bhuna Gosht was a nice curry flavored beef dish, and while I wasn’t all that impressed with the Buttery Chicken, my daughter enjoyed it a lot.

Verdict: Recommended. Good tasting food, inexpensive and unpretentious. I’m sure I’ll be back to this place.

Mughal’s Restaurant and Hall
5265 Jimmy Carter Boulevard
Norcross, Georgia 30093
(770)-446-6941

Open Tuesday – Sunday 11am to 11pm
Closed on Mondays.

Mughals on Urbanspoon

The high ranking on Urban Spoon, the fine review in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, none of this adequately encompasses the way Benny’s Bar and Grill handles food and prepares meals.  The kind of talk you can hear on the Food Channel, about how food can be “rich with flavor”, comes into sparkling clarity when you try one of Mike “Benny” Miller’s dishes. So don’t let the tough driving conditions, the menu on the outside, the rave reviews drive you away.

The restaurant is located at the site of the old Mellow Mushroom just south of Golden Corral, on Highway 78. Benny’s is a little north of the Highway 78 – Killian Hills intersection, and for those a little west of this restaurant, approaching it by heading down Killian Hills and north on 78 might save you some grief. There is some parking in front of the restaurant, but a lot more parking in the back of the building, down a ramp to the left.

Once inside, it doesn’t seem as cramped as the old Mellow Mushroom was. There is much better use of space and, it seems, a lot more places to sit and eat. The layout is graceful, but unpretentious. There are big screen TVs on the walls, a bit of bar seating, elegant tables and on the tables, no salt or pepper. I didn’t notice the lack of spices, Mike Miller pointed it out. And to be honest, I didn’t need it.

A description of the food might be a fusion between the kind of food California has made famous (more accurately, modern American cuisine) and Cajun/Creole cooking.  If that’s too high falutin’, think of it as guys in a kitchen with Louisiana roots trying to make really good food while incorporating neat tricks friends from elsewhere have taught them. The results are a lot of original dishes, entirely the opposite of the chain experience.

On to the food:

The soup of the day was a gumbo, and gumbo can be a make or break experience in a restaurant with aspirations to deliver Louisiana favorites. The bowl was appealing when it arrived, with nice chunks of sausage floating in a rich broth. It looked great, smelled good, and it was delicious. It had a lot of flavor, and it managed it with just a tiny bit of heat, enough to let you know it was there.

I also had the boudin egg rolls, perhaps because a lot of restaurants that claim Cajun roots can’t even spell boudin. They were good, bits of sausage and rice in the egg roll. The rolls looked to be a bit unwrapped, and there was cheese, I think, melted into the portion of unwrapped roll.

I didn’t order an entree until I had eaten the appetizer and the soup and the jerk pork tenderloin was too much to resist at that point. And before I trip over superlatives describing how good it was, let’s just say it was exceptionally good.

The beer selection here is really well thought out, with a small number of beers that encompass a wide range of tastes. If you like light beer, you can get that. If you want an extra stout, you can get that too. If you’re like me and want something more like a brown ale or Anchor Steam, they have those as well.

For those wondering why I haven’t described the po boys or the desserts, they are very well covered by the AJC review, and I really want my wife, who has made me drive 90 miles for a good po boy in the past, to have her say first.

By the time I was into the pork tenderloin, Mike Miller came out, and we spoke for a bit. It’s impressive, his grasp of his craft. Prices in Benny’s Bar and Grill are also equally impressive. Entrees run 10 to 14 dollars, their famous po boys run about 9 dollars. You should be able to come here, have a salad and an entree, and beat the prices of every mid priced Snellville steakhouse, or even Ruby Tuesday’s. The desserts, which the AJC raved about, are also competitively priced with any low to mid priced chain.

Verdict: Exceptional food, exceptional value. This is original food, not cookie cutter stuff. The setting is appealing without being pretentious.  Despite the informality, this is the kind of restaurant that would be considered an asset in any city I’ve eaten in, from Seoul, Korea and San Francisco in the east, to Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Boston in the west.

Benny’s Bar and Grill
3902 Highway 78
Snellville, GA
(678)-209-0209

Benny's Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Update 10/27/2009: Benny’s has a letter posted on the front door saying it is temporarily closed.

It’s in the same strip mall as the Lilburn International Farmer’s market, to the left as you’re facing the market, at the intersection of Highway 29 and Indian Trail. It’s small and new, and like all new restaurants, is in that stage where it establishes a clientele or goes away. There was almost no one in the restaurant at the time I dropped by, though soon after, a couple with three kids tried it.

The cuisine is French creole, which, as best I can determine, is a fusion between Caribbean cooking and French cooking, coming out of the French occupied Caribbean islands. If I have a complaint about food in Atlanta, it’s that they don’t have enough spicy food, and even food that should be spicy is often shamefully lacking in spice. So I was hoping for something that would engage the palate.

Entrees at RJ’s ran from $9.00 for their chicken dishes, to $18.00, for a plate of conch with creole sauce. Dishes were based on seafood, beef, goat, and chicken. I had the legumes, which were a mix of vegetables with pieces of meat and small pieces of crab (in shell). It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t to die for either. And as in most cuisines, it usually takes a try or three before anyone knows what they like. The food had some spice, but not enough to be overwhelming. The dish came with a generous plate of peas and rice, which is a variant of the red beans and rice seen in Louisiana. It was tasty and good.

I had a dessert, a sweet potato pastry, which was good. That’s a surprise for me, because I usually don’t like sweet potato on anything. Service was good. They are very attentive to the customers they do have, will offer tastings, etc.

Verdict? I’m unfamiliar with the cuisine. I want to try it again sometime, before knowing whether RJ’s is a keeper. I can say it’s promising overall, and worth a stop if you’re in the area.

RJ's Great Taste on Urbanspoon

The Snellville edition of Texas Roadhouse is on Dogwood Road, close to the intersection of Scenic Highway (124) and Dogwood. The restaurant is in the same large mall area as Men’s Wearhouse and O’ Charley’s, but on the Dogwood side of things. The steakhouse is actually much easier to get to down Dogwood, as that part of Scenic Highway gets a little crowded with traffic. From Ronald Reagan you could exit Web Ginn Road, head towards Brookwood High School, and then hang a left on Dogwood to get to Texas Roadhouse.

As compared to Outback Steakhouse, which we reviewed recently, the atmosphere here is more informal. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Peanuts are served in small metal buckets, all you can eat. There were times when I had a hungry impatient daughter.  Giving her some peanuts kept her hands busy, kept her from complaining until she received her meal.

Occasionally the waitstaff will dance. I’m not sure what the rhyme or reason is, but it’s entertaining when it happens. Items on the menu, for what it’s worth, go by common names here, as opposed to something made up.  You can order a choice sirloin without any feeling of guilt. Steaks are good, competitive in price in my memory and served with good sides. My wife has had good luck with chicken, or ribs, or some combination of the two. Among the appetizers I’ve tried are the buffalo wings and the rattlesnake bites (stuffed jalapenos), both good. In terms of salad dressings, my wife favors the ranch dressing and I’ve had good luck with the italian. My daughter eats all kinds of things here, though I think lately she’s been getting chicken tenders. Service, in my experience, has been good to very good here. Waitstaff will come by, refill drinks, ask how you are doing, and make food suggestions if you need them.

If I haven’t said, this is a popular place and can get crowded for dinner. It might be worthwhile to choose times carefully if you want to just stick your head in and eat.  But in summary, this is a good steakhouse, worth going to, a bit more informal than Outback. I recommend this steakhouse highly.

Texas Roadhouse
1969 Dogwood Road
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 985-1450

Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon